Kansas Lawmakers Threaten to Strip $1 Million in Wildlife Funding if Agency Bans Deer Baiting

Rep. Lewis Bloom told the state wildlife commission he would “go through every line item bit by bit and take off everything we can find”
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deer baiting ban kansas

While a formal proposal has yet to emerge, discussions of a baiting ban in Kansas have caused heated debate. Erik Burdett / Adobe Stock

Tensions ran high at a public hearing held by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks on Sept. 21 when a lawmaker threatened to retaliate against the agency for a potential ban on wildlife baiting intended to slow the spread of CWD. Rep. Lewis Bloom, a Republican and farmer in Clay County, warned wildlife commissioners that the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the agency’s budget and of which Bloom is a member, would gut the agency of $1 million before going through each line item and cutting further funding if the agency “considers … banning baiting.”

Bloom spoke for himself and Rep. Ken Corbet, also a Republican and the chair of the committee, when he made the threats. Corbet owns the Ravenwood Lodge, a hunting lodge outside Topeka where deer hunts run $1,000 per person per day, with a three-day minimum and additional trophy fees.

“We have the votes to do this,” Bloom warned in the hearing. “If you consider banning baiting … we’re going to take $1 million off the top of your budget immediately, and then we will go through every line item bit by bit and take off everything we can possibly find.”

Those who favor the baiting ban as a method for protecting Kansas’ wild deer argue this political move raises ethical concerns over Corbet’s position as committee chair, KCUR reports. The hearing was just one in a series of public meetings held by KDWP intended to explore the pros and cons of a bait ban in Kansas and get public input. The agency first announced it was considering a bait ban on July 3. (Read more on the announcement and Kansas’ history with CWD here.) 

“This isn’t just about baiting deer. This is about losing our freedom,” Bloom said. “We’re tired of it, our constituents are tired of it…We don’t want this rammed down our constituents’ throats, we don’t want to be told what to do on private ground when we’re paying to feed the deer. It’s not costing you one thing to feed the deer.”

At the core of the baiting-ban debate is the widely-supported scientific theory that the likelihood of the transmission of CWD (among other diseases) increases significantly when deer congregate around corn piles.

“Regardless of your cultural and ethical views toward baiting/feeding wildlife, there is no doubt about the dangers these practices pose to animals through increased disease transmission,” National Deer Association chief conservation officer Kip Adams wrote in August. “It is clear from scientific evidence that baiting and feeding significantly increase the spread of diseases among deer by congregating them unnaturally on small sites. Artificially high concentrations of deer, elk and other animals may be fun to view by some, but the congregations are neither natural nor advantageous for those animals or ones that will visit those sites in the future.” 

Baiting wildlife is already banned on public land in Kansas; since 97 percent of Kansas is under private ownership, the future of the state’s CWD response is reliant on landowner cooperation. Bloom argues that the ground KPDW takes care of “is a disaster … full of cedars, hedge, locusts, and weeds” and KDWP is “in no position to tell anybody how to take care of habitat, deer or any other kind.” Of course, cutting the agency’s budget likely won’t improve its ability to properly manage wildlife and habitat any time soon.

Opponents of a bait ban and other CWD restriction measures have long pointed out that it’s impossible to fully protect free-roaming deer from swapping spit. Even if KDWP were to enact a bait ban, Kansas deer would still share licking branches, eat from the same patches of crops, and otherwise huddle in close proximity. CWD prions live in soils for at least two years, which means infected areas can stay that way even if an attractant has been removed. And when the attractant in question is not only the landowner’s primary source of income but also the state’s second-biggest export, that complicates things.

“As a farmer, I see 60 or 70 deer on top of each other eating beans and corn,” Bloom says. “You can’t control that.”

But a ban on intentionally leaving piles of dried corn or mineral licks on the ground in a shooting lane or in front of a trail camera could control the unnatural congregation of deer around that concentrated food source. That’s the reasoning behind Wisconsin’s county-wide baiting and feeding bans whenever a deer tests positive for CWD. (Wisconsin’s Washburn, Rusk, Sawyer, and Barron counties will start baiting and feeding bans on Oct. 5 after a captive deer tested positive in Washburn County in August.)

Read Next: Hunters Face Jail Time for Bringing Home a CWD-Infected Buck from Kansas

A formal proposal for a Kansas bait ban has yet to emerge, but KDWP will continue to consider the idea. KDWP did not immediately reply to request for comment. Bloom did not immediately offer comment, either. It remains unclear whether Bloom intends to punish the agency for enacting a ban or just considering one. Nor did he offer comment regarding the fact that wild deer are treated as a public resource even when on private land in the U.S.

“We have an obligation and an established standard of managing our state’s natural resources utilizing the best available scientific data,” KDWP secretary Brad Loveless told KCUR. “[We] will always do our best to achieve an acceptable balance between what’s best for wildlife and what’s best for users.”